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With an eye to the future

From left, Gallup High School students Orion Lomaintewa, Destiny Slinkey and Robyn Sandoval and Thoreau High School students Taylor Long and Elias Woody learned how to program the movement of Sphero robots at the STEM Exploration Day at Navajo Preparatory School in Farmington. (Daily Times)

Thoreau High School sophomore Elias Woody closely watched his sphere-shaped robot maneuver around small plastic cones set up inside a maze.

Earlier, Woody had learned how to use a coding program from an app to direct the robot’s movement during the STEM Exploration Day at Navajo Preparatory School last month.

Woody said it was his first time programming a robot. After adjusting its movement and speed, he decided to try the maze, which the machine completed an inch away from the finish line.

“It was a fun competition,” he said.

Offering a glimpse into robotics and coding is one reason Navajo Prep partnered with the Navajo Transitional Energy Co. to present the event for a second year.

The STEM Exploration Day offers students from schools in San Juan and McKinley counties the opportunity to learn about careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics in sessions that encouraged hands-on learning. Further information was shared during a career fair.

Donna Fernandez is the adviser at Navajo Prep for New Mexico Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement Inc., a statewide program that prepares middle and high school students for college majors and careers in STEM fields.

“It is particularly important here, in this area, to show what STEM careers are available to our students, so they get excited about studying math and studying science and then know there are jobs available in this area for them to come back to,” Fernandez said.

She said the focus on middle school students helps them build a foundation for their interest in STEM. By continuing that focus in high school, the students are encouraged to pursue such careers, she said.

Students watch a paper rocket launch during an activity at the STEM Exploration Day in October at Navajo Preparatory School in Farmington. (Daily Times)

“If we get them early and excited, then they want to do more projects and find out what’s available to them,” Fernandez said.

Shawndeana Smith, the west region coordinator for New Mexico MESA, watched students as they participated in the stomp rocket activity. The activity featured students constructing rockets from card stock paper and propelling them from a launcher built from PVC pipes.

After watching the first batch of rockets ascend and land, Smith told the students to think about changes they could make to their rockets in to improve their design and distance of travel.

“Mainly, the part I want to get across to them is the design,” Smith said.

Navajo Prep sophomore Kamorie Thomas is interested in engineering and volunteered to help because she wants other students to develop an interest, as well.

“We could use more engineers out there on the Navajo Nation, for a better future,” Thomas said.

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